Adopt-a-surplus-PC program earns an A in nation's schools

Worget camouflage tents and build-it-yourself jeeps--the hot
military surplus item these days is a battered 286 PC.

The orphaned offspring of the Reagan-era procurements that introduced tens of thousands
of military staffers to the computer age are piling up all over the Defense Department.
Many of the PCs are being left behind at facilities shuttered by the Base Realignment and
Closure Commission, but most have been pushed aside by newer equipment.

Since 1993 alone, 300,000 PCs have been put up for adoption throughout DOD, according
to the Defense Information Systems Agency. Nearly 90,000 of them have been snatched up by
elementary schools, high schools and historically black colleges that have tapped DISA's
Educational Institutions Partnership Program (EIPP), a sort of clearinghouse for surplus
computer equipment and peripherals.

"We receive hundreds of requests [for used computers] from schools each day,"
said Shirley L. Fields, head of DISA's Software Management Support Department and director
of the EIPP. "Many requests come from schools in poor districts that have never seen
a computer."

Though EIPP is available to 110,000 schools around the country, Fields said her staff
works with the Education Department to identify especially needy districts. DISA
guarantees that computers and peripherals are operational and ensures that schools have
access to a technician who can install and maintain the systems. Shipping must be arranged
by each school.

Demand is ferocious. "Last spring, we had one high school principal from
Mississippi [who] drove a van all the way to Washington, D.C., with two students to pick
up a batch of computers," Fields said. "They arrived on Saturday, loaded up, and
were back in time for school on Monday."

Though most schools prefer functioning equipment, some will take whatever is available.
"We got 30 computers from the Army Corps of Engineers," said John Foltz, a
computer technician with the La Marque Independent School District in Galveston, Texas.

"Some worked, some didn't. But we have an electronics class where our students
were able to get most of them running again, mainly by scavenging components from the
other systems," he said. "It was a great learning experience, and now we're
using the PCs in classrooms and our library."

Margaret Patterson, principal of Broadway Elementary School in Spokane, Wash., said her
school received only 10 surplus PCs from a lot of 220 at nearby Fairfield Air Force Base
because so many area schools requested them.

"We've had to buy some extra parts," Patterson said. "But you don't look
a gift horse in the mouth. Most of our kids are just not going to have computers in their
homes, and we see this as a great opportunity to help them become technically

Before a computer becomes available through the EIPP, however, it has to get past DOD's
own redistribution system.

"We handle everything from Commodores to Crays," said a Pentagon official who
coordinates ADPE redistribution for the Air Force. Choice items--anything faster than a
286--tend to get picked up by other units within the service or agency that originally
procured them, according to the official, since DOD rules give the parent service first

At bases affected by the BRAC process, any computers that can't be reused by the parent
service automatically are offered to local governments, thanks to an amendment to the 1994
Defense Authorization Act.

Any computers left over are handed off to Field's office at DISA, which posts a
description of the location, quantity and condition of available equipment on an
electronic bulletin board available to all DOD services and agencies.

An item must remain unclaimed on the DOD bulletin board for 30 days before the EIPP can
make it available to schools. Historically black and other minority colleges are allowed
to view an up-to-date listing of EIPP equipment on the Software Management Support
Department's World Wide Web page at
  High schools and elementary schools must contact the EIPP directly at 703-681-2257.

Despite demand, the high cost of transporting systems from one part of the country to
another and repairing old equipment keeps most of DOD's surplus PCs from being reused.

According the EIPP, roughly 70 percent of all surplus computers end up being "sent
to disposal." The Pentagon redistribution official said this usually means local
auctions or "precious-metal content recycling," where reusable materials are
extracted and sold.

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